Tosa Maidan: A Photo Essay

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It all started in 1964 when state awarded 3000 sq km stretch of Tosa Maidan meadow to Indian army on lease for conducting firing drills. In the span of 49 years, state government admitted that 63 residents were devoured by artillery drills and some 43 have been left maimed. But the ordeal does not stop there only. Violent bangs and incessant shaking of ground in this part of central Kashmir have radically impacted the daily routine of people living closer to meadow. The Army’s lease is ending early 2014 and the process for re-validating it has started. Kashmir Life’s photojournalist, Bilal Bahadur, visited the meadow, which is presently at the centre of debate.

Mesmerizing Meadow:  Tosa Maidan is a historic valley which once was a city. It is the collection of three meadows: Pathra, Guttemarg and Badshamarg. Further on, there is spot called Kralmarg, where one can have a view of whole Srinagar.

Mesmerizing Meadow:    Tosa Maidan is a historic valley which once was a city. It is the collection of three meadows: Pathra, Guttemarg and Badshamarg. Further on, there is spot called Kralmarg, where one can have a view of whole Srinagar.

Other Side: But there is other side of Tosa Maidan, which isn’t lovely at all. Arduous trekking and zooming in of cameras captures the picture of meadow occupied by makeshift tents sheltering Indian Army.

Other Side:    But there is other side of Tosa Maidan, which isn’t lovely at all. Arduous trekking and zooming in of cameras captures the picture of meadow occupied by makeshift tents sheltering Indian Army.

Occupied Point: This is the base camp for artillery drills in Pathri in Tosa Maidan. This is where bofors are shot that send violet shakes around. One can have a view of major portion of Srinagar from this point. Locals say the spot possesses tourist potential manifold than Gulmarg. Indeed, perceptions don’t deny such assertions.

Occupied Point:    This is the base camp for artillery drills in Pathri in Tosa Maidan. This is where bofors are shot that send violet shakes around. One can have a view of major portion of Srinagar from this point. Locals say the spot possesses tourist potential manifold than Gulmarg. Indeed, perceptions don’t deny such assertions.

Zooming In: These makeshift tents keep on changing, after one unit is replaced by another unit for carrying artillery drills. Bofors and other artillery guns are fired from the banks of Sukhnag River near Chill village towards Tosa Maidan, which has been declared as a firing range by the army.

Zooming In:    These makeshift tents keep on changing, after one unit is replaced by another unit for carrying artillery drills. Bofors and other artillery guns are fired from the banks of Sukhnag River near Chill village towards Tosa Maidan, which has been declared as a firing range by the army.

Rugged Pasture: The firing drill has reduced meadow into a rugged territory. Green cover has vanished in many parts. In "absence of state intervention", nearby woods have been thinning and making the place vulnerable for erosions and landslides.

Rugged Pasture:    The firing drill has reduced meadow into a rugged territory. Green cover has vanished in many parts. In “absence of state intervention”, nearby woods have been thinning and making the place vulnerable for erosions and landslides.

Fetching Firewood: These girls live in nearby village, who daily visits the meadow to collect firewood. People still use traditional chulas in this part of the valley. Frequently finding themselves in the line of fire, these girls have learnt to carry their routine without getting deterred by bangs around.

Fetching Firewood:    These girls live in nearby village, who daily visits the meadow to collect firewood. People still use traditional chulas in this part of the valley. Frequently finding themselves in the line of fire, these girls have learnt to carry their routine without getting deterred by bangs around.

Potholed Meadow: The firing drills have left trenched marks on the meadow. Such spots make their presence in number of places inside Tosa Maidan. Locals say these marks have taken sheen out from the meadow.

Potholed Meadow:    The firing drills have left trenched marks on the meadow. Such spots make their presence in number of places inside Tosa Maidan. Locals say these marks have taken sheen out from the meadow.

Returning Home: Tosa Maidan pasture is visited mostly by locals from Beerwah, Khag and some adjoining areas of Central Kashmir’s Budgam district. People from these villages spend nine months in a year in meadow rearing their cattle, apart from getting firewood.

Returning Home:    Tosa Maidan pasture is visited mostly by locals from Beerwah, Khag and some adjoining areas of Central Kashmir’s Budgam district. People from these villages spend nine months in a year in meadow rearing their cattle, apart from getting firewood.

Collateral Damage: In late nineties, a teenage Bilal Ahmad of Shanglipora village had gone to meadow for playing cricket with his friends. He had no idea that he would return home later walking on a single leg. He happened to step on stray shell left in the meadow, which got exploded and devoured his right leg. Later, army replaced the loss with an artificial leg. But the replacement couldn’t instill a sense of normalcy in Bilal all these years.

Collateral Damage:    In late nineties, a teenage Bilal Ahmad of Shanglipora village had gone to meadow for playing cricket with his friends. He had no idea that he would return home later walking on a single leg. He happened to step on stray shell left in the meadow, which got exploded and devoured his right leg. Later, army replaced the loss with an artificial leg. But the replacement couldn’t instill a sense of normalcy in Bilal all these years.

Lethal Object: This is one of the live shells found by villagers. With gushing rain waters, sometimes live heavy mortar shells also come down from the Tosa Maidan meadow towards residential areas. Since army vehicles cannot reach Tosa Maidan in bad weather, ammunition is carried on the back of horses. Sometimes these shells skid from the back of horses and remain suspended on hilly tracks hidden in bushes and come down to residential areas once it rains.

Lethal Object:    This is one of the live shells found by villagers. With gushing rain waters, sometimes live heavy mortar shells also come down from the Tosa Maidan meadow towards residential areas. Since army vehicles cannot reach Tosa Maidan in bad weather, ammunition is carried on the back of horses. Sometimes these shells skid from the back of horses and remain suspended on hilly tracks hidden in bushes and come down to residential areas once it rains.

Ominous Fissure: Deep fissures on the walls of old as well as newly constructed houses are palpable in most villages near the meadow. As ground shakes due to violent explosions, the waves let hell loose in villages. Locals say, the minaret of a local mosque has crumbled above 50 times due to violent waves, which often put life at risk.

Ominous Fissure:    Deep fissures on the walls of old as well as newly constructed houses are palpable in most villages near the meadow. As ground shakes due to violent explosions, the waves let hell loose in villages. Locals say, the minaret of a local mosque has crumbled above 50 times due to violent waves, which often put life at risk.

Shell Severed: These three villagers of Shanglipora near Tosa Maidan have been left handicapped by shell explosions in meadow. While taken their cattle for gazing to meadow, they stepped on stray shells which left them handicapped.

Shell Severed:    These three villagers of Shanglipora near Tosa Maidan have been left handicapped by shell explosions in meadow. While taken their cattle for gazing to meadow, they stepped on stray shells which left them handicapped.

Another Victim: This elder has a similar story to narrate. While taking his cattle to meadow for grazing, he also became shell victim.

Another Victim:    This elder has a similar story to narrate. While taking his cattle to meadow for grazing, he also became shell victim.

Daily Routine: Whether there is bang or lull in Tosa Maidan, female folk and shepherds, compelled by the exigencies of survival, make their presence felt in the meadow, at the risk of their lives.

Daily Routine:    Whether there is bang or lull in Tosa Maidan, female folk and shepherds, compelled by the exigencies of survival, make their presence felt in the meadow, at the risk of their lives.

Towards Woods: The firing drill from last five decades has badly affected the economy of these villages in spite of the fact that the area has a great potential for adventure as well as winter tourism due to its perfect makeup. One can trek to Gulmarg from Tosa Maidan towards its south-west side and Poonch through Noorpur galee and China galee.

Towards Woods:    The firing drill from last five decades has badly affected the economy of  villages near meadow in spite of the fact that the area has a great potential for adventure as well as winter tourism due to its perfect makeup. One can trek to Gulmarg from Tosa Maidan towards its south-west side and Poonch through Noorpur galee and China galee.

Under Vigil: Of late, this huge meadow in the foothills of Pir Panjal range is becoming the new rallying point for protests in the area. The lease of 3000 kanals of Tosa Maidan as a firing range comes to an end in July 2014. Locals have been urging authorities to ensure that no extension be granted for the same as they want it to be developed as a tourist resort. Dozens of locally elected village headmen and civil society groups have floated the Tosa Maidan Bachao Front to press for their demand, besides, Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and other separatists as well have taken up the villagers’ cause.

Under Vigil:    Of late, this huge meadow in the foothills of Pir Panjal range is becoming the new rallying point for protests in the area. The lease of 3000 kanals of Tosa Maidan as a firing range comes to an end in July 2014. Locals have been urging authorities to ensure that no extension be granted for the same as they want it to be developed as a tourist resort. Dozens of locally elected village headmen and civil society groups have floated the Tosa Maidan Bachao Front to press for their demand, besides, Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and other separatists as well have taken up the villagers’ cause.

Elder Shepherd: Among the shepherds roaming in the meadow along with their cattle, Wali-ud-din appears the eldest. He lives nearby the place where firing drill is being carried out. Broken windows and doors of his house reflect the ‘ordeal’ he has been through. He is witness to events in Tosa Maidan before and after 1964. “Before occupied by army, Tosa Maidan was literally a heaven,” Wali-ud-din says, “but unfortunately, the decision of state government to hand over this place to army for firing practices badly marred the prospects of this place.”

Elder Shepherd:    Among the shepherds roaming in the meadow along with their cattle, Wali-ud-din appears the eldest. He lives nearby the place where firing drill is being carried out. Broken windows and doors of his house reflect the ‘ordeal’ he has been through. He is witness to events in Tosa Maidan before and after 1964. “Before occupied by army, Tosa Maidan was literally a heaven,” Wali-ud-din says, “but unfortunately, the decision of state government to hand over this place to army for firing practices badly marred the prospects of this place.”

Tender Foot: Wali’s grandson, Gulzar, below 10-year-old seldom pays his attendance to local school due to abject poverty at home, besides, loud explosion of shells and mortars often force him out of school. “His is not the only kid, whose studies are being affected by these firing drills,” Nazir claims. “There are scores of such kids here who no longer attend school due to violent explosions.”

Tender Foot:    Wali’s grandson, Gulzar, below 10-year-old seldom pays his attendance to local school due to abject poverty at home, besides, loud explosion of shells and mortars often force him out of school. “His is not the only kid, whose studies are being affected by these firing drills,” Nazir claims. “There are scores of such kids here who no longer attend school due to violent explosions.”

Going Uphill: Many villagers collect the used up shells and mortar scraps for the living here. This fetches them some quick bucks. But fiddling with shells sometimes proves lethal for villagers. “Like in case of one blacksmith, who found a live shell, but mistook it as dead rubble,” Nazir says. The blacksmith went on to heat and hammer the shell, causing an explosion that ripped him apart. It took villagers three days to assemble the body pieces of that blacksmith for last rites.

Going Uphill:    Many villagers collect the used up shells and mortar scraps for the living here. This fetches them some quick bucks. But fiddling with shells sometimes proves lethal for villagers. “Like in case of one blacksmith, who found a live shell, but mistook it as dead rubble,” Nazir says. The blacksmith went on to heat and hammer the shell, causing an explosion that ripped him apart. It took villagers three days to assemble the body pieces of that blacksmith for last rites.

Grazing Bovine: As the artillery regiment undertaking firing practices, not only humans, but also cattle become collateral damage. Some 50 thousand cattle make their way to Tosa Maidan on daily basis for grazing. “Our cattle often return home bleeding and sick,” Mushtaq Ahangar, a local villager in Shanglipora, says. “They get caught in razor wires while roaming in meadow, which leaves them with blood oozing injuries. Besides, they often feed on leftover food of army in meadow, which makes them sick and usually leads to their death.”

Grazing Bovine:    As the artillery regiment undertaking firing practices, not only humans, but also cattle become collateral damage. Some 50 thousand cattle make their way to Tosa Maidan on daily basis for grazing. “Our cattle often return home bleeding and sick,” Mushtaq Ahangar, a local villager in Shanglipora, says. “They get caught in razor wires while roaming in meadow, which leaves them with blood oozing injuries. Besides, they often feed on leftover food of army in meadow, which makes them sick and usually leads to their death.”

Routine Matters: For somebody like Nazir, RTI activist, who has lost three brother-in-laws in 1990’s to leftover ammunition, renewal of lease is unacceptable. “They were kids then, when a shell exploded and tore them apart and scattered their body pieces around the meadow,” Nazir recalls, “We couldn’t even perform last rites of their bodies.”

Routine Matters:    For somebody like Nazir, RTI activist, who has lost three brother-in-laws in 1990’s to leftover ammunition, renewal of lease is unacceptable. “They were kids then, when a shell exploded and tore them apart and scattered their body pieces around the meadow,” Nazir recalls, “We couldn’t even perform last rites of their bodies.”

Captioned By: Bilal Handoo

Note: Some captions used in this photo story have been taken from the story filed by the reporter earlier for this publication.

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6 Comments

  1. Hats Off Bilal Sir.

    Great work. Kashmir Life has emerged as alternate voice of Kashmir.

    Being a media student Mr.bilal bahadur has inspired me alot.

  2. A matter of great concern in terms of both economical as well as human right violations for the nearby residents of this tiny valley kudoos to the photojournalist for the true untold story

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